Annells in court on HK$25.4m theft and fraud charges

Expat tax adviser released on bail pending further inquiries into activities of firm AzureTax

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 1:14pm

Deborah Annells, a well-known tax adviser to expatriates in Hong Kong, appeared in court yesterday charged with 29 counts of theft and fraud amounting to HK$25.4 million.

No plea was taken and the case was remanded until February next year while two more complaints against her involving HK$12.7 million are investigated by police.

Eastern Court's Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai extended Annells' bail terms of HK$250,000 and told her to report to Wan Chai police station every week. Her travel documents have also been surrendered.

Annells, 54, was arrested by police in December 2011, but was only recently charged. She appeared in court with her lawyer, Christopher Morley.

Annells is the chief executive and founder of AzureTax, a company that specialises in arranging the tax affairs of expatriates in Hong Kong, which sometimes involved the setting up of trust funds.

She stood in the dock as the charges were read. After each charge was read out, she said: "I understand."

The alleged offences occurred between June 2009 and August 2011 and involve one count of possessing a false instrument, three counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft.

The largest individual sum amounted to US$485,959.

One count of alleged fraud involved falsely indicating that funds had been transferred from a trust held by Azure Worldwide in a bank account in Hong Kong to an Azure Worldwide account in Switzerland, when in fact they had not.

In another alleged fraud, Annells is accused of saying that financial statements of a trust fund were accurate in an attempt to defraud.

In a third charge of alleged fraud, Annells is accused of falsely representing to HSBC that the signatures on 10 bank withdrawals were genuine, resulting in a benefit to Annells and/or "prejudice and substantial risk of prejudice to the bank".

Annells came to Hong Kong in the 1980s and has worked at a string of accountancy firms such as Ernst & Young and Grant Thornton, and also for banks such as Citi and HSBC.

She is a past president of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong, has sat on the general committee of the British Chamber of Commerce, and was chairman of its finance committee.

On her website, Annells denies the charges and says she will vigorously defend herself. 

An earlier version of this article stated the total figure as amounting to HK$31 million, with bail terms of HK$220,000, and the charges including 26 counts of theft. The article also did not contain a further charge of possessing a false instrument.